Will Smith Deserves Respect From Hip Hop!
Will Smith is arguably Hollywood’s most bankable actor. His films top charts worldwide (no matter what the critics say), his fan base is virtually boundless, and his fellow stars love him. It seems that the only place Smith has a hard time is in his former home, hip hop.
Over the years, the artist formerly known as Fresh Prince has garnered criticism or ridicule from several so-called hip hop fans as well as various rappers including newcomers, veterans, and all those in between. Case in point:
On his song, “The Real Slim Shady” from 2000′s The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem famously said:
“Will smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell his records
Well I do, so f**k him and f**k you too.”
The song won a Grammy.
Then, in 2005, even Bow Wow got in on the action. In an interview with XXL, he had this to say about the rapper-turned-actor.
“But to me honestly, Will wasn’t like a real rapper. He was more like a gimmick. Then he zapped in to get a TV show, and it was poppin’. Then after that he was in Hollywood. So things came easy for him. With me, I’m a rapper. I ain’t with the whole colorful cornball-type things. That’s just not my style..”
In the pint-sized rapper’s defense, he and Will actually sat down, spoke, and settled the matter.
Sounds like old news, huh? Guess again.
Most recently, newcomer Drake had something to say about Will from West Phil.
This is from his song “The Winner,” a new track recorded exclusively for this year’s So Far Gone EP.
“Nick Cannon and Will (Smith)
never did it this ill
So you tell that house band don’t you dare interrupt me!”
Drake had a few people outraged about some of his lyrics about Tupac and Jay-Z in another song. However, no one has said much about the snide remark to one of the greats.
As for Nick Cannon… He married Mariah, so he must be doing something right.
Again, these are just the most prominent examples. There are many people who talk about Will as if he’s a walking punchline when it comes to music.
I’m here to set the record straight.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
First of all, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince came along during the mid to late 1980s when the radio was dominated by the likes of NWA and Public Enemy. While these two groups both had crossover success, there was a need for a more accessible and less abrasive form of hip hop to appeal to the wider audience.
Furthermore, songs like Ice-T‘s “Cop Killer” had many politicians and others up in arms about the lyrics and subject matter. Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff were the perfect duo at the perfect time to quiet those who sought to end hip hop, and their humorous and radi0-friendly lyrics added immensely to the cross-cultural appeal of the genre.
Today, the Real Hip-Hop Network estimates that 70% of all hip hop albums are purchased by white suburban teenagers. It would seem, then, that a lot of people have Will Smith to thank (at least to some extent) for the billion-dollar business that hip hop has become .
Not only that, but Will Smith also made the first uber-successful foray into television acting from hip hop with his role in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Other shows featuring rappers as television stars followed shortly thereafter, including Living Single and In The House. He went on to break box office records with his films and consequently proved to Hollywood that rappers could make bankable lead television and film actors.
Nowadays, rappers are expected to get a few acting roles. Even though some had made the transition before he did, none had done it with his degree of success. Bridging the gap between hip hop and the film industry is another thing that Will Smith is responsible for to a large degree.
Sidebar: Who else do you know that can star in a film and have a hit record about the film (with the same title, no less) at the same time? Will’s done it twice with Men In Black and Wild Wild West and the corresponding songs. It was quite a feat for the latter film, as it was widely panned by critics.
The first reasons were quite obvious.
For the next, I present a tidbit of history that many seem to have forgotten
In 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince made history by winning the first Grammy ever awarded to a hip hop act.
That’s enough in and of itself, but what really makes it stand out is this:
They did not attend the awards ceremony because they would not be featured during its live airing and could not publicly make their acceptance speeches. Instead, they would have to settle for the less prestigious pre-recorded award slot. They chose to join other standout hip hop acts of the day in boycotting the awards to make a statement.
That statement was that hip hop culture and music deserved a seat at the table as well as the respect due to any other genre. The message was obviously heard loud and clear by The Academy, as we now expect to see/hear speeches and performances from our favorite rappers at The Grammys.
He has paved the way for rappers to reach wider audiences, star in films, and win prestigious and validating awards. Therefore, Will Smith has earned the respect of all who consider themselves fans, listeners, or artists of hip hop.
Main Image: Babble